Modern-day slavery is often hidden in plain sight.
Last year, my quaint little college town of about 80,000 people was shocked when a local restaurant owner was arrested for human trafficking. He had been using physical force to coerce two women into unpaid work—one of the women lived at the restaurant and was even prevented from making phone calls in English. All this came to light one day when a customer found out what was going on, met the woman in the back, and helped her escape and receive medical attention.
When we think of human trafficking—or to really call it what it is, modern-day slavery—we might picture red light districts or cocoa farms thousands of miles away. We don’t usually think of the restaurant on a busy intersection in the center of our town. But human trafficking does happen around us, often hidden in plain sight. And even though many of the estimated 30 million slaves in the world today do live far away from us, the impact of human trafficking—through forced labor and sex trafficking—still reaches us in our everyday lives.
But much like the customer who was able to help the exploited restaurant worker, we also have the ability to fight human trafficking in our everyday lives. Here are 4 main ways that human trafficking affects us all and what we can do to fight back.
In Your Home
You’re on DoneGood, so you may already know how human trafficking affects your home. Some of the clothes, home goods, and even food we buy are produced by workers who are being exploited—forced or deceived into work, or working for unreasonably low wages.
What you can do
You’re here, so you’re already off to a great start! All of DoneGood’s 200+ brands ensure that their workers are free and are being paid and treated fairly. Keep buying from great brands that sell ethically-made clothing, home goods, and food products. Known Supply, GlobeIn, Grounds for Change, and Five North Chocolate are great places to start.
In Your Community
As the story about the restaurant in my town shows, human trafficking can happen anywhere—even down the street. In restaurants, salons, massage parlors, and shops around us, business owners may prey on vulnerable populations—like non-English speakers—and deceive or force them into unfair working conditions.
What you can do
Look for warning signs as you’re out and about in your community. Red flags include an employee living at their place of employment, being prevented from speaking to others, or appearing overly fearful and submissive.
If you see suspicious activity, report it. In the U.S., the national human trafficking hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Outside the U.S., you can find your country’s human trafficking hotline here.
Transportation and travel centers are common hubs for human trafficking. Victims are often transported from place to place, so airports, trains, buses, major interstates, and hotels are important places to be aware of warning signs.
Our vacation destinations might also contribute to labor trafficking. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that some vacation destinations—particularly all-inclusive options—exploit their employees.
What you can do
As you travel, especially in transportation hubs and hotels, keep an eye out for red flags among travelers. Red flags might include: a traveler who is not dressed appropriately for the season, is traveling with few possessions, or is traveling with someone who seems to control them or speak for them. If something seems off, call the numbers listed above.
When choosing where to travel yourself, look for ethical options. Context Travel is a great resource to help you plan an ethical vacation. If you plan your own trip, just ask yourself questions as you explore lodging and accommodations. If a resort or hotel seems unreasonably cheap, there may be a reason.
There are two main ways we encounter human trafficking online. The internet—especially social media and online marketplaces like Craigslist— is a major venue where victims of sex trafficking are bought and sold.
Pornography also fuels the sex trade by creating a demand for content that is often met using victims of human trafficking. These videos and pictures end up on mainstream sites, so consumers have no way of knowing if what they are viewing includes victims of human trafficking.
What you can do
As with the categories above, keep an eye out for suspicious activity online. If you see something shady, report it. You can help stop the demand for pornography by refusing to be a consumer yourself.
Human trafficking is a terrible reality, but our small actions can make a difference! Through awareness, conscious shopping habits, and reporting suspicious activity, we can help fight injustice in our communities and around the world.
Writer, editor, and all-around language enthusiast who uses her love of words to help others.